Last update: 07.13.2018
When you get a Ford for free, but you can only drive 10 miles a month. Then, you purchase a license for unlimited miles, hit a tree, and realize it’s not a Volvo.
TunnelBear VPN has been a choice for over 21 million users worldwide. What’s their biggest secret to attract such a crowd in about 7 years? Well, the free VPN option is certainly at the top of the list of reasons for its popularity. Then, we also have to mention that it’s very easy to use TunnelBear even for total beginners. The whole VPN service is themed around the bear: The website, the apps, the pop-ups, and the emails alike. This is surely one of the most authentic services out there.
If you wonder whether TunnelBear is safe enough for you to use, we must say that yes, it is absolutely safe as long as you have nothing to hide. Both the free and the paid versions are equipped with great security and privacy features; although, on a second thought, you would expect a bit more from a paid VPN service.
This, combined with the not exactly zero log practices of TunnelBear, could cause a bit of a headache for those who want to use a fully trustworthy VPN service for a good reason: total anonymity. Of course, we could argue whether such a thing is possible at all, total anonymity and privacy, that is.
TunnelBear has a clear presence in the social media, but you cannot contact them about your technical issues directly. In fact, this VPN service doesn’t have live chat support, which is a real drawback.
This provider offers servers in the main VPN locations around the world, but its network is still quite small when compared to other competitors. Despite this you can reach relatively good speeds to stream videos or Netflix shows; however, your location and distance from your chosen VPN server could be an issue.
All in all, TunnelBear could be a great choice for people who travel a lot and need to access geo-restricted or censored content from countries like China. But, we wouldn’t recommend it for hardcore gamers, torrenters, political activists, or hackers. Let’s see now in detail what our TunnelBear review managed to dig up.
Security & Privacy: Is TunnelBear safe to use?
Obviously, most VPN services promote themselves as “the most secure” or as using “military-grade encryption,” but you need to dig deeper if you really want to understand what kind of security and privacy a certain provider grants you. So, is TunnelBear safe enough? Well, it depends on your needs. Let’s see what this VPN has to offer.
Gmail privacy issue may affect TunnelBear VPN
Before you jump to any rushed conclusions, let us tell you right now that this current Gmail privacy “scandal” has nothing to do with TunnelBear per se. Well, nothing, if we don’t count the fact that this VPN service uses Gmail, which happens to share your private email access with third-party app developers as a WSJ report revealed. This could mean serious sensitive data leaks if such access is misused.
If you would like to know more about how TunnelBear and other VPNs may be affected by this Gmail privacy issue, please read our full report.
So, is it safe or not?
First of all, this VPN provider is based in Canada, which is a Five Eyes country, i.e., a member of the global surveillance alliance. This means that Canada shares collected intelligence data with the US and the UK among others.
This VPN service claims to have a “fierce no-logging policy,” yet, when you use your client, TunnelBear collects and stores, i.e., logs your OS version, your VPN app version, your monthly bandwidth usage, etc. We are not saying that all logging is evil since certain operational processes can only be maintained by having basic data about the users.
What is a bit worrisome, though, is the fact that providers tend to play around with diction to sort of mislead users about logging. In all fairness, a lot of VPN services do that.
Of course, this is not to say that you are much safer with a VPN based in a more privacy-friendly country. We have already written about in our PureVPN review how the Hong Kong-based company helped the FBI to identify a cyberstalker.
Just like most VPNs, TunnelBear also uses the good old AES-256 encryption to encode your traffic and thus make it very difficult to crack for the prying eyes (governments, ISPs, and hackers). This service supports the following VPN protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and IPSec (OpenVPN UDP is the default VPN protocol for Windows and Mac OS, IPSec/IKEv2 for iOS). You can manually change UDP to TCP. While other competitors may offer a wider variety of protocols, these are surely the fastest and most secure ones as well.
TunnelBear VPN offers two important bear-themed security features:
- VigilantBear as the kill switch to block all traffic if the VPN server drops the connection
- GhostBear for double encryption to make your encrypted data look like normal internet traffic (obfuscation)
If you want to use TunnelBear safely in China, you can do so to access all geo-blocked websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but remember to install your client before you arrive in China.
According to our review, TunnelBear is safe to use as it has a reliable and quite secure service for even the free VPN version; however, you may want a bit more for a premium service. Travelers and other general users of geo-restricted content could be well satisfied.
Speed: Lightning speeds or barely bearable?
Naturally, you won’t find any VPN that would claim, “we are the slowest VPN” or “our speeds are just OK.” TunnelBear promises “lightning fast speeds” so, let’s see if that holds.
In general, we can say that this service is quite fast for such a small network, but definitely not as fast as lightning. TunnelBear operates in 20 countries globally plus in Australia, which is not available for the free version. The true number of servers and IP addresses is not known.
With that said, VPN download and upload speeds are always quite relative; they don’t solely depend on your VPN provider. There are additional factors like your CPU power, your internet settings, your ISP intervention (e.g., throttling), and so on. And, let’s not forget about your physical location, i.e., how far you are from a chosen or assigned server.
For instance, if you are in Europe and try to use the server in Australia, your speeds could drop significantly. But, you may still have good enough speeds in the States, Canada, and Europe for streaming videos without major issues. You may experience from 50% up to 70% speed drops on the average, which can still mean good enough speeds on a 100Mbps baseline speed.
What could be a bit off-putting is the relatively slow connection times, which can be around 15 seconds on the average. For comparison, other competitors can usually connect to servers in 8 to 10 seconds while Hotspot Shield can do this in as little as 2 seconds.
There have also been user complaints about issues connecting to the UK servers or other ones, and that support was quite slow or useless. But these problems usually improve with time passing. And, we can surely see that this provider is working hard to please its customers.
All in all, our review has found TunnelBear speeds quite okay for either the free or the paid versions.
How to download and install it
Before you can download and install TunnelBear, you need to create an account by entering your email address and setting a password. Once you have signed up, you are redirected automatically to the download page, where you can choose your desired platform.
TunnelBear supports the main platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android. You may also find it great that you can effectively use the Chrome and Opera browser extensions for an extra layer of security and privacy. Unfortunately, you cannot use this VPN on game consoles, the Fire TV Stick, and routers.
Once you have your client downloaded, it is very easy to install TunnelBear. After you launch your VPN tool, you need to login to your account. To be able to use the service you need to check your inbox first and verify your account. It is also good to know that you can use this VPN with up to 5 devices.
Now, you are ready to dig your tunnels through the globe to connect to your chosen location.
How to use TunnelBear
If our TunnelBear review can highlight one area where this VPN service provider excels, it’s certainly the fact that it’s very easy and fun to use. The bear theme is all over the place starting from the website, its pop-up alerts, emails, and, of course, in the app as well. This may become, of course, a bit annoying if you’re not the playful kind. Still, we need to praise this VPN for being this authentic and consistent as well.
The whole application looks like a cartoon: Colorful, funny, and sort of entertaining. When you start up your application, it connects you to a VPN server closest to your physical location.
If you want to change your server location, simply choose from a drop-down list or click on your country of choice on the map, and watch the bear digging your tunnel to your chosen destination. Since connection times can be around 15 seconds, you may have to watch this animation over and over again every time you change locations.
To access the Settings menu, click the Gear icon on the left (below the Globe icon). These are the tabs you will find there:
- Trusted Networks
On the General tab, you can set TunnelBear to launch and connect automatically on system startup, TCP overrides on or off, and general notifications.
The Security tab is where you can turn VigilantBear or GhostBear on or off. As we have already explained, VigilantBear is the TunnelBear kill switch, which kills all applications connected to the net to stop any possible leaks to your ISP. We advise you to always keep this one on for the sake of anonymity. GhostBear could be a secure choice for those who live in locations where it is best to obfuscate internet traffic not to be recognized as VPN traffic.
On the Trusted Networks tab, you can add a list of trusted networks and choose to switch on TunnelBear whenever you’re not connecting to any of those. This is how you can make sure that you are always protected even if you’re using a public (unsecured) WiFi in a café or in a library.
The Account tab is basically an interface to manage your account, submit a support ticket, or log out.
The TunnelBear clients keep notifying you about your bandwidth usage if you’re using the free version, and also give you a chance to upgrade.
As you can see now, anyone can easily use this VPN application even if they’re beginner computer users.
TunnelBear for Netflix
Even if you’re not a techie, you would probably know that 500MB per month won’t get you too far if you want to use the free version of TunnelBear for Netflix. It is also possible that you will only be able to watch Netflix US with the paid version.
If you are located in Australia, you can most likely forget about connecting to the UK or the US servers to access geo-restricted Netflix shows because the farther away you are from the servers, the biggest the drop can be in speeds.
Another hit for BBC iPlayer fans: This VPN cannot be used to stream shows from the BBC iPlayer.
But don’t panic, there are many other VPNs that you can easily use for Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer as well. You may need to read more reviews or comparisons to find your own best VPN for whatever you need it.
TunnelBear for Torrenting
Well, this will probably cause unbearable pain, but you cannot use TunnelBear for torrenting. This VPN doesn’t support P2P file sharing, as simple as that. We couldn’t recommend this service for online gamers, either, even if the latency is relatively low to be able to play games online. However, the server network may not be suitable for decent gaming even if some users may claim otherwise.
We suggest that you look for a more secure VPN with lots of servers, which is recommended for torrenting or gaming.
Live chat support
If you want to hear the short version, well, unfortunately, there is no TunnelBear live chat support. This is certainly a drawback. Even though this service has a strong social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, these don’t offer live chat support or any kind of support really apart from redirecting you to the Help pages of the official website.
You can access these Help pages if you scroll all the way down on the website and click the Help link at the bottom. You have basically 3 options to find solutions for your problems. First, you can search the help database. Second, you can try to find your questions in the FAQ sections below. Or, finally, you can contact the support team by submitting a support ticket.
The response to your support ticket can take up to 24 hours but can also be resolved in just a few hours. The TunnelBear support must have gone through some improvements because you can still find older comments with users complaining about slow and useless support. Still, we miss the live chat support because there’s nothing more human when talking to a real person about your issues. Hopefully, this VPN will also consider this and provide the 21 million users with proper and fast live support.
Apps and extensions
You can download TunnelBear for all major platforms, including Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android. It is also important to mention that there are two browser extensions available right now for Chrome and Opera. The Firefox extension is supposed to be in development at the time of writing this review.
All the clients look and function more or less the same way, but we need to highlight the effectiveness of the browser extensions. Other competitors may have technical issues in this department with underwhelming or malfunctioning clients. But TunnelBear can make you feel even safer than usual if you choose to use these proxy browser extensions along with the main app.
This gives you an opportunity to hide behind two layers of spoofed IP addresses. Let’s say you are in the UK physically, but your main client is connecting to a US server while in your browser you set Switzerland as your exit VPN server. Sounds secure enough?
Pricing: The Little, the Grizzly, and the Giant
Pricing is definitely one of the strongest points this VPN can brag about; well, relatively so. It is a bonus that you can use TunnelBear for free, which can’t get cheaper. Of course, a free VPN may also mean less security and privacy due to logging as well as limited bandwidth and server usage (you cannot access the server in Australia).
This service allows you 500MB free monthly traffic, which can be extended with an extra 1GB by tweeting about the VPN on Twitter. For comparison, other VPN providers may give you 500MB daily for free; for the details, please read our Hotspot Shield review.
For general users and travelers, even these could be acceptable conditions if the only aim is to access geo-restricted web content or streaming some smaller videos. But the more serious VPN fans like political activists, hackers, BitTorrent and uTorrent users need a higher level of security, which is usually not provided by free VPNs.
These are the pricing plans TunnelBear offers:
- Giant, 1-month plan: $9.99 per month
- Grizzly, 1-year plan: $4.17 per month
- Little, Free
- Team: $69 per year
As you can see, the whole bear theme permeates even the TunnelBear pricing plans, which is kind of cute but may also be annoying when you are a serious privacy seeker.
The only negative touch about the pricing is that this VPN doesn’t have a money-back guarantee. For some users, this could be like a stop sign even if, otherwise, this provider is trustworthy. Nevertheless, you can always try it for free and see if you get what you expect from this VPN service.
TunnelBear by Reddit
It seems that mostly gamers are interested in sharing their worries or positive experiences regarding TunnelBear on Reddit. Of course, the 500MB monthly limit of the free version may only last like 16 hours for online gaming as per the data provided by users, TunnelBear seems to function fine depending on the location of users.
There is also a thread on Reddit about how you can use TunnelBear to access AP scores early from the West Coast and other delayed areas in the States, which is certainly an interesting way to use a VPN service.
You can also find users worrying about their accounts being blocked if found using different IPs at long distances from each other.
Conclusion of TunnelBear review: To bear or not to bear?
So, is TunnelBear safe for you to use? To conclude our TunnelBear review, we can say that this VPN is fairly safe and keeps your privacy intact as long as you simply use it for basic browsing practices to access censored or geo-blocked content, or to stream media, even from China.
However, if you are more worried about your online security and privacy, you may want to go on with your search for the best VPN for anonymity.
The free version provides you with the same level of security and privacy; although, at the price of bandwidth, which almost makes no sense to use it at all unless for a trial.
In general, relatively good speeds and security at a good price. However, considering the privacy features of the competitor premium VPNs, it may be worth paying a tiny bit more for more security features.
What is your VPN experience?
Have you ever tried to use TunnelBear or any other VPN apps before? What are your impressions?
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